Italian Popular Tales | Annotated Tale

COMPLETE! Entered into SurLaLune Database in October 2018 with all known ATU Classifications.

Godfather Misery

The Tuscan version, which contains some of the traits of the last story, is as follows:


GODFATHER Misery was old,--God knows how old! One day Jesus and St. Peter, while wandering through the world to name the countries, came to Godfather Misery's, who offered his visitors some polenta, and gave them his own bed. Jesus, pleased with this reception, gave him some money, and granted him these three favors: that whoever sits on his bench near the fire cannot get up; that whoever climbs his fig-tree cannot descend; and finally, out of regard to St. Peter, the salvation of his soul. One day Death came to Godfather Misery, and wanted to carry him off. Godfather Misery said: "It is too cold to travel." Death pressed him; then he asked her to sit by the fire and warm herself a moment, and he would soon be ready. Meanwhile he piled wood on the fire. Death felt herself burning, and tried to move, but could not; so she had to grant Godfather Misery another hundred years of life. Death was released; the hundred years passed, and Death returned. Godfather Misery was at the door, pretending to wait for her, and looking at his fig-tree in sorrow. He begged Death to pick him a few figs for their journey. So Death climbed up, but could not descend until she granted Godfather Misery another hundred years. Even these passed, and Death reappeared. This time there was no help, he must go. Death gave him time only to recite an Ave Maria, and a Paternoster. Godfather Misery, however, could not find this time, and said to Death, who was hurrying him: "You have given me time, and I am taking it." Then Death had recourse to a stratagem, and disguised herself like a Jesuit, and went where Godfather Misery lived, and preached. Godfather Misery at first did not attend these sermons, but his wife finally persuaded him to go to the church and hear a sermon. Just as he entered, the preacher cried out that whoever said an Ave Maria should save his soul. Godfather Misery, who recognized Death, answered from a distance: "Go away! you will not get me." Then Death went away in despair, and never got hold of him again. Godfather Misery still lives, since misery never ends. [1]

               In another Tuscan story, similar gifts are bestowed upon a smith, who had always been a good Christian, to enable him to avoid a contract he had made with the Devil, to sell him his soul for two years of life. The first time the Devil comes he sits on the bench near the fire, and cannot rise again until he extends his contract two years. The next time he comes he does not enter the house, but looks in at a window that has the power to detain any one who looks through it. Again the contract is extended. The third time the Devil is caught in the fig-tree, and then a new contract is drawn up, that the Devil and the smith are never to see each other again. [2]


[1] Novelline di Sto. Stefano, No. XXXII. A version from Monferrato is found in Comparetti, No. 34, entitled, "La Morte Burlata" ("Death Mocked"), in which a schoolmaster, who is a magician, tells one of his scholars that he will grant him every day any favor he may ask. The first day the scholar asks that any one who climbs his pear-tree must remain there; the second day he asks that whoever approaches his fireplace to warm himself must stay there; and finally he asks to win always with a pack of cards that he has. When the possessor of these favors has lived a hundred years Death comes for him, but is made to climb the tree, and is forced to grant the owner another hundred years of life. The fireplace procures another respite, and then the man dies and goes to paradise; but the Lord will not admit him, for he had not asked for mercy. Hell will not receive him, for he had been a good man; so he goes to the gate of purgatory and begins playing cards, with souls for stakes, and wins enough to form a regiment. Then he goes to paradise, and the Lord tells him he can enter alone. But he persists in going in with all those who are attached to him; so all the souls enter too.

[2] Novelline di Sto. Stefano, No. 33. A similar story, told in greater detail, is in Schneller, No. 17, "Der Stöpselwirth" ("The Tapster"). A generous host ruins himself by his hospitality, and borrows money of the Devil for seven years; if he cannot repay it his soul is to belong to the lender. The host continues his liberality, and at the end of seven years is poorer than before. The Lord, St. Peter, and St. John come to the tavern and tell the landlord to ask three favors. He asks that whoever climbs his fig-tree may remain there; whoever sits on his sofa must stay there; and finally, whoever puts his hands in a certain chest must keep them there. The Devil first sends his eldest son after the money. The host sends him up the fig-tree, and then gives him a sound beating. Then the Devil sends his second son, whom the landlord invites to sit on his sofa, and gives him a sound thrashing too. Finally the Devil himself comes, and the host tells him to get his money himself out of the chest. The Devil sticks fast, and is set free only on condition of renouncing all claims to the landlord's soul.

               The conclusion of the story is like that of "Beppo Pipetta."

               There is another story about a bargain with the Devil in the Novelline di Sto. Stefano, No. 35, "Le Donne ne sanno un punto più del diavolo" ("Women know a point more than the Devil"). A fowler sells his soul to the Devil for twelve years of life and plenty of birds. When the time is nearly up the fowler's wife persuades him to alter his bargain with the Devil a little. The latter is to give up his claim if the former can find a bird unknown to the Devil. The Devil consents, and comes the last day and recognizes easily every bird, until finally the fowler's wife, disguised with tar and feathers, comes out of a case and frightens the fowler and the Devil so that he runs away.

               The mysterious bird recalls the one in Grimm, No. 46, "Fitcher's Bird."

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Godfather Misery
Tale Author/Editor: Crane, Thomas
Book Title: Italian Popular Tales
Book Author/Editor: Crane, Thomas Frederick
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin and Company
Publication City: Boston
Year of Publication: 1885
Country of Origin: Italy
Classification: ATU 330: The Smith and the Devil

Prev Tale
Brother Giovannone
Next Tale
Beppo Pipetta

Back to Top